Are Cubs' Trade Efforts Solely About Cutting Payroll, or is First Focusing on Trades Logical in Any Case?

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Are Cubs’ Trade Efforts Solely About Cutting Payroll, or is First Focusing on Trades Logical in Any Case?

Chicago Cubs

So, remember the Ken Rosenthal report that the Cubs are out there telling agents they can’t negotiate on even lower-cost free agents until they move salary? Well, the latest from Gordon Wittenmyer seems to support the facts underlying that report, so give it a look.

That said, Wittenmyer has a direct agent quote to that effect from an agent, but man, it makes me really dubious about what exactly is going on.

Here’s what the agent told Wittenmyer: “We offered [the Cubs] a middle-of-the-rotation guy that wouldn’t have cost them more than $4 or $5 million, and they said they couldn’t do anything until they cleared some payroll.”

Do you immediately see the problem? No “middle-of-the-rotation” free agent starter in the universe is offering himself up for $4 or $5 million. Give me a break. If that’s the price tag, then the agent is really stretching to frame his client as something more than the back-end/swing-starter/reclamation/reliever he must actually be. A true middle-of-the-rotation guy would get three or four times that amount annually. And if an agent is fudging that hard about the data points in the conversation, it immediately makes me suspicious of his motivations and interactions with the team.

Even if I’m generous and say the agent is spot on about the info – let’s say he just hyped his guy a crapload too much – then it’s still consistent with the Cubs trying to hold off this tier of free agents while they first work on trades (which, regardless of money, is the approach I would prefer them to take anyway). That is all to say, the quote – from one agent doing some fudging – doesn’t really bother me much, and certainly not more than we already felt (i.e., it’s very concerning if the Cubs have a directive to get under the luxury tax, and we’ll see where the offseason goes on that front).

And, as Theo Epstein said last night, you’re just not gonna hear boo from the front office about payroll until the offseason is over, as has been the case in the past. Sometimes we suspect they aren’t going to spend, and they do. Sometimes we suspect they aren’t going to spend, and they do not.

So, I’m as concerned as I was yesterday, but not more. I’m also willing to observe the maneuverings ahead with the hope that the “plan” is less about cutting costs before engaging lower-tier free agents, and is more about trying to land the right longer-term pieces in trade before sliding over to the free agent market (thanks to the relatively deep pool). In the meantime, you try to hold off those free agents by telling them you can’t commit financially to a deal right now, which serves two purposes: (1) might keep them from signing elsewhere just yet, and (2) might simply serve as negotiating leverage on their price tag.

Like I said before:

So anyway, here’s where we leave this: we know that the Cubs aren’t always forthright with their spending plans, and that’s for understandable reasons. We also know that, with pieces they may want to trade first, the free agents they target might change dramatically based on what trades they’re able to pull off – so holding back right now makes sense in any case. And it’s also true that, in this particular free agent market, we endorse the Cubs kinda waiting back, trying to make additive trades first, and then going over the later signings to take some swings.

In other words, it’s not actually all that inconsistent with what we want to see from the Cubs this offseason to have them out there telling agents they can’t negotiate on lesser deals right now, and they can offer up whatever reason they like. I’m just saying I’m considerably less cool with it if the *actual* reason they cannot negotiate on those deals right now is because the budget (1) is reduced, and (2) is fully committed. Eff that.

I’m not sure we’re actually going to know the answers to all of this until we gain some hindsight ability to look back. It’s long been the case that we weren’t expecting the Cubs to be aggressive on the top free agents in this class, but it would be something else entirely if, at the end of this offseason, it’s clear that the intention was to get under the luxury tax. It would cast reports like today’s in an entirely different light.

For now, I’ll give a little benefit of the doubt, and proceed to observe the Cubs’ offseason through the lens I mentioned above: I think exploring trades (both moving out, and moving in) is how the Cubs should be attacking this market, and then after that process is complete or reaches a point where you know additional moves are unlikely, then make shorter-term, lower-cost additions in free agency. It’s a deep market in the areas the Cubs have needs (particularly among starting pitchers and among roll-the-dice relievers), so the good and sage approach is also consistent with not going out there and spending $30 million right away on a couple years of a mid-tier starting pitcher. If, in hindsight, we can see that’s really all the Cubs were doing, then fine, I got no beef with reports like today’s.

We’ll see, though.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.